23 SEPTEMBER 1995, Page 63


Dear Mary.. .

Q. A neighbour of mine in the country is having a dance in a few weeks' time and I have offered to have a number of people to stay. My eldest son has informed me that one my guests is a terrible snob who also suffers from feelings of social insecurity and that this man will 'burst into tears' when he finds that he has been billeted in one of our least grand rooms. Short of moving out of my own room there is gen- uinely nowhere else I can put him as all the other rooms are taken by couples, some with children, and he is a single man on his own. What should I do?

Name and address withheld A. Why not take a tip from one of your fel- low stately-home-owners who has adapted one of his floor plans especially for this contingency? Chippy guests, being put into a former butler's bedroom, are given a copy of the plans on arrival. Where the original version said 'Butler's bedroom', this has been altered to read 'Earl X's sanctuary'. As they are being shown to the room, guests are informed that this was the 12th Earl's favourite room in the whole house where he slept by choice whenever he had the opportunity, as he found the atmo- sphere so congenial. Guests who have been preconditioned in this way seem to find the accommodation more than satisfactory.

Q. You were kind enough to offer very practical advice on how to deal with laugh- ers in restaurants. I wonder, however, whether you will be able to provide a solu- tion to the related, but in many ways more severe and intractable, difficulty of laughers in theatres. A performance of Old Times was recently marred by ignorant titters and guffaws from a good third of the audience. I consulted a friend knowledgeable in such matters who confirmed that Harold Pinter is not principally a comic playwright and that I had not missed any jokes. I can only conclude that the laughers are persons of uncertain taste and social position who wish to reassure themselves and their friends that they have caught some kind of meaning from the inscrutable play by evinc- ing an observable reaction. Whatever the truth behind their behaviour, can you sug- gest a method for stopping it?

A.T., St Martin's Lane, London WC2 A. There are many good judges who regard Harold Pinter as being balanced on a knife edge between being funny and not being funny, and that when he is funny no one knows whether he is trying to be funny or not. As for discouraging pretentious laughter, however, the only known method is the reverse Pavlovian, i.e. answering each ripple or titter with a jarring screech of your own, as though try- ing belatedly to prove that you too have got the point. This can often be effective. As life is so short, however, and some- times nasty and brutish, why not let the poor fools have their moments of happi- ness, whether real or imagined?

If you have a problem, write to Dear Mary, clo The Spectator, 56 Doughty Street, Lon- don WC1N 2LL.